Q&A With Vital Villa
I can't honestly say. Before the Chelsea thumping there were signs that the team were slowly starting to gel, an our new signings were showing individually that they were beginning to find their feet in the league, but with our festive run confidence became truly shot. In the last couple of months improvements in our performances came back to a degree. For whatever reason, results slowly started changing for us again and everybody got a second wind and hopefully it has come just in time to stay up.
Are you confident you'll stay up?
No. I was confident until the end of January when the soul was ripped from the team and Lambert failed to bring in the experience we needed to help guide the lads. Had he done that what you are seeing from us now could well have come two months ago, because all these lads needed in the main was some leadership to help them see out games and that comes with experience, and a whole host of confidence and belief.
It's more likely, and I'm optimistic that we will, but not confident.
Worryingly for us, Gabby Agbonlahor seems to have his form back. How has that happened?
Much the same as the turnaround in the whole team, I don't think anybody really knows. Over the past few seasons we've seen too much of the hands on hips, pointing and moaning Gabby. Now we seem to have the Gabby back that chases lost causes with a smile on his face, will happily track back when needed, and do whatever he can do to help - even if it's a blind run just to distract the defence.
Has opinion changed for the positive towards Lambert?
Not really, he's used up a hell of a lot faith by taking the gamble that he did do. The majority of fans are more than onboard with the young, hungry aspect and building the foundations properly for the future instead of overpaid journeymen with well-known names, but there are very few fans who agree with his transfer policy.
There are plenty of players in the Championship in the 25-28 bracket that wouldn't need huge money or huge wages, would be motivated at their shot in the top league, carry plenty of experience and savvyness to see out matches and provide them the leadership that would've given us a far better balance in the squad.
Another 2-3 experienced players to cover midfield and defence, especially when the experience we did bring in (KEA/Vlaar) have been injured, could've been another 10 points easily for us, it could've been the difference over Christmas period.
There are already some saying they want to see the back of Lambert even if he keeps us up, but they are the minority. I think the majority will be happy to see him have next season but we need to see progression. We need good signings to balance the team and provide the depth we need, and then if we take what is our end of season form and performances into the start of next season I think everybody will be happier.
The saving grace for Lambert I think for most is whilst he's not doing it correctly in terms of balance, and it is a bit perplexing to see strikers on the wing, overall he's trying to do what we want him to and there are various reasons to feel confident about next season because of the emergence of some new players, and the further step up of the youngsters from last season.
I think most fans can see we have a good core there now BUT that has to be built on next season. Yes find the Bowery's (who looked very good against Stoke and Fulham) who are signed for 12 months down the line, but we need the quality to be competitive now.
I don't think Lambert will have many followers left if we struggle near the bottom again next season because the same mistakes have been made. A solid run for 8th-12th place though will be tangible growth in the right direction and that's what the fans want.
Very few I feel are demanding Lambert has us back in Europe next season, because we appreciate the change in tact and the long term view, but there has to be tangible growth.
If you stay up how far can Lambert take you?
If he learns from his mistakes of this season, then I can easily see him in time taking us into Europe and making us competitive on all fronts. Whether he can smash the glass ceiling O'Neill set of 6th place remains to be seen.
But it's in his hands, he knows what he's got wrong this campaign. He won't not make mistakes, everybody does, but if he learns and stops repeating them maybe more people will look back at this season and start to forgive how big a gamble it was.
Are you going into the game with confidence as our form has dipped?
Absolutely, our last few matches we've gone into with confidence because of how we are performing and how we know we are capable of performing. Sunderland will have been a huge boost for us and I doubt we are going into any games worrying about the opposition.
Lowton himself commented after Sunderland that too many times this season we have been the better team and not performed in the second half because we've tried to protect the lead instead of going all out to increase it. So on our day we've shown we can give anybody in the league a game for 45 minutes, but we haven't done that for 90 minutes often enough.
Sunderland is hopefully our turning point and whilst nobody expects a similar scoreline, if we perform how we did there's a very good belief we can take maximum points here.
However I hope we're taking no confidence from your dip recently, because if we do and with our luck this season we'll underestimate you and you'll suddenly find your form again!
Do you think we'll stay up?
I honestly don't know. It's just too tight to call down at the bottom, and depending on how results go this weekend anybody from Southampton and under can either demonstrate they are pulling out of the bottom, or seriously getting sucked in further.
I think the key will be Wigan, if they win (assuming Villa do) then you'll be precariously placed. But if they lose Norwich have a good buffer even if you don't take anything from our game. You do feel though as a Villa fan that it's written in the stars that Wigan's future will be decided on the last day in their game against us.
What's your view of Hughton?
A very competent manager who was shoddily treated by Newcastle and rarely seems to get the credit he deserves. Like Lambert he's nowhere near the finished product yet, has shown potential he could reach the top, but has a lot to learn before he can get there.
I wouldn't have been too disappointed had he been in our hot seat really.
3-1 to us. I think the Sunderland result will have made all the difference, and whilst nobody expects us to keep a clean sheet - we still do make ridiculous errors in defence even though we've tightened up! - I just think the confidence of our forward line will be that high that it'll be our day.